Develop talks to Mark Rein to find out more about Epicâ??s diversification from ultra high-end content
When we spoke to you in the past about Wii support for Unreal Engine 3, you said that you had enough on your hands optimising for current generation consoles and preparing for future hardware, without looking at last-gen tech. Does the UE3 on Tegra 2 announcement mean that this lower-spec stuff is now part of your plan?
Well, Tegra 2 isn’t ‘lower spec stuff’ – it is definitely about the future rather than the past. Tegra 2 features a high-speed dual-core architecture mated to a DX9-class GPU with a decent amount of memory and a good bus speed.
It is amazingly powerful for a mobile platform and performs well within the power range that you’d want for Unreal Engine 3, so it could be a good fit for our engine. We’ve also demonstrated the engine on iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod Touch which are also good performance fits for UE3, and there’s clearly a big business there.
From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like the Tegra 2 will find its home in tablet PCs and mobile devices – is this a sign that you’re starting to tread into the mobile market a little more?
We look at these kinds of devices as bridges to the future. If Tegra 2 can do what it does today just think how much power we’d get with Tegra 3 and Tegra 4. Same goes for future generations of iPhone and iPod Touch. If current trends continue then in a few short years we’ll see mobile devices that are easily as powerful as Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on a per-pixel basis and soon even beyond that.
These devices are going to be able to deliver the kind of compelling experiences for which Unreal Engine 3’s superior tools and efficient pipeline provide a massive benefit. What we’re doing now is getting ready for this future. There are still a lot of business issues to figure out, but we’ve at least demonstrated our engine can play in this arena.
Epic has recently joined the Khronos Group – why did you decide to do this, and what are you hoping to achieve together?
The Khronos Group is a standards body that governs several key APIs including Open GL ES, the graphics API used in the majority of mobile devices.
We joined the board of Khronos to have a seat at the table in determining how the major APIs for mobile graphics will evolve. It’s important for this group to have input from game developers to ensure that the future devices are the best gaming platforms they can be. We believe our participation there will benefit the entire game industry and ultimately the consumers who play games on mobile devices.
It was only a few months ago that Epic released the free UDK – how do you feel the launch went for you?
It has gone very well. So far we’ve had over 125,000 unique user installs of the Unreal Development Kit which is pretty amazing considering it is, after all, a development kit.
Are you seeing much upsell from people wanting to go commercial with their products, or is it still early days?
Yeah, it definitely is still early days, but the initial and ongoing interest in using UDK for commercial products is beyond what I would have expected. So I’m very pleased with the way things are going.
As mentioned above, you’ve clearly been after the smaller developers for some time now. Has this done much to curry favour with them? Is it much more than an extended evaluation period?
I think there are a lot of developers for whom UDK is a great fit and a breath of fresh air. Many of them never had the possibility of gaining commercial-use access to Unreal Engine 3 prior to the release of UDK, so I think we’ll see some really awesome and unique products released using it.
For some, UDK could be a stepping stone to gaining a full Unreal Engine 3 licence by being able to demonstrate their ability to create something really cool. They can use that to attract a partner who can make that a reality, or show us something special that opens the door for them directly. Either way, it’s a win for gamers and developers alike.
Could you see yourselves expanding the ‘Make Something Unreal’ competition to include stand-alone content created with the UDK?
I don’t know. The nice thing about UDK is that developers can ‘make something Unreal’ and be in control of their own commercial destiny. They don’t need a contest to be able to make money from their talent; they can simply get the commercial license for UDK and go out and sell what they’ve made.
Some people originally thought that the UDK was slightly limited at launch – how has the DLLBind functionality in the recent update helped with that?
UDK’s new DLLBind feature enables developers to easily interface UnrealScript code with external libraries written in C/C++, such as middleware components and hardware drivers. When we released UDK in November, this was one of the top user-requested features, and Jack Porter at Epic implemented it rapidly, using the open-source libffi package.
What other new features have you added since the launch of the UDK?
We’re constantly improving Unreal Engine 3 and its tools so UDK, being a full-fledged binary version of UE3, has received a ton of new features and improvements – far too many to pick out just a few.
Just as significantly, we’ve also opened up loads of documentation and worked with partners to create some awesome training materials, including over 170 video training modules from the folks at 3D Buzz and two sample games that illustrate how to use UDK in different ways. With those games we’re releasing the source code and developer diaries to show how they were made.
These are incredible resources for UDK and UE3 users alike. Prior to UDK, only Unreal Engine 3 licensees knew the sheer breadth of the improvements we make to the engine on a month-to-month basis, but hopefully now more people can appreciate it.
With regards to the more traditional UE3 platforms, what sort of things can developers expect for Unreal Engine 3 in 2010?
I think what we’re showing right now is that Unreal Engine 3 never stands still; we’re constantly working to make it better and extend its appeal. Developers looking for game engines should come visit our Expo Suite at GDC to get a small glimpse of that.